NEW ORLEANS -- The Big Ten arrived in the Big Easy Thursday night. And so did Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott, Ohio State's sophomore running back, rushed for 230 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns to help the Buckeyes beat Alabama, 42-35, and advance to the College Football Playoff title game against Oregon. The backbreaker: Elliott's 85-yard touchdown run with 3:24 remaining that opened a two-touchdown lead and sent Buckeyes fans into early celebration.
"Barry Sanders said before the game there were two great running backs that were going to play tonight, and they both were for Bama," Elliott said. "I felt a little bit left out."
Ohio State fell behind early but scored 28 straight points to take a 34-21 lead in the second half. Alabama closed the gap to within six points, but could get no closer as quarterback Blake Sims threw a crucial fourth-quarter interception with 1:33 left in the game. Meanwhile, Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones completed 18 of 35 passes for 243 yards and rushed for another 43 yards.
Ohio State did an impressive defensive job on Alabama star receiver Amari Cooper. While Cooper caught nine passes, including two for touchdowns, the OSU secondary kept Cooper's yardage in check, at 71 yards.
Alabama took full command early, taking a 21-6 lead midway through the second quarter. A Cyrus Jones interception set up Alabama's offense on the OSU 15, and T.J. Yeldon scored a fourth-down touchdown from 2 yards out to give Alabama its biggest lead. The Buckeyes countered with a 12-play, 71-yard drive to pull within eight points of Alabama, then closed to 21-20 just before the half with its two-minute offense.
Jones keyed that series with a 27-yard scramble through the middle of the Alabama defense. Wide receiver Evan Spencer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas on a trick play to make it a one-point game.
Yeldon, who is considering early NFL draft entry, was used sparingly because of a hamstring problem that limited him during bowl practices. He saw a lot of third-down action, sometimes as a pass protector, but Derrick Henry handled most of the rushing load for the Crimson Tide, totaling 95 yards on 13 carries. Yeldon finished with 47 yards on 10 carries with one touchdown. Alabama had early success running the ball to the left side, particularly when the play went away from Buckeyes star defensive end Joey Bosa.
Elliott also broke a 54-yard run in the first half on which he hurdled over Alabama All-America safety Landon Collins to break free down the right sideline. The play set up a field goal.
A few notable performances from some of the game's top players:
» Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland went to the locker room in the fourth quarter with an apparent head injury he suffered from a collision at the line of scrimmage with Elliott. Ragland, a junior who is considering entering the NFL draft, made seven tackles, including two for losses.
» Collins made a game-high 12 tackles and had a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
» Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant, who frequently drew the coverage assignment on Cooper (and said he relished the challenge), made seven tackles.
» Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett recorded one of Ohio State's three sacks among four stops.
» With Alabama frequently sending its rushing attack away from Bosa, the OSU star sophomore made just three stops.